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Pick of the week

Historian David Starkey follows his series on Henry VIII with a four part survey of the life and times of Henry's remarkable daughter, Elizabeth.

Last week, he looked at Elizabeth's childhood and education. Starkey could only speculate about the psychological effects on the young princess of growing up with her life frequently in danger, in the shadow of the father who had been responsible for her mother's execution (what a soap opera that would make). But he had solid evidence to show of her early scholarship: one of his more incredible claims was that she actually enjoyed the system of "double translation", which involved turning a passage of Latin or French into English, then putting it back, unseen, into the original. She was so precocious, in fact, that Starkey compared her to the young Mozart.

This week he turns to the start of her reign, telling the story as in the previous series with the help of documents, monuments and semi-dramatisations. He shows how precarious Elizabeth's position was in the early years and points out how unusual it must have seemed to her contemporaries to have a queen reigning alone; hence the pressure on her to get married as soon as possible.

Visually, the series suffers from having only a limited number of portraits and locations to draw on: Dr Starkey is discovered once too often in the same 16th-century gardens and long galleries; but he has a rattling good story to tell and tells it lucidly, so that he holds your attention andensures that you come away with a clear idea of the main issues.


Channel 4

Thursdays, from May 4, 8-9pm school spotlight

Two new programmes for Film Focus analyse the films of the Australian director Baz Luhrmann, Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet, to show the decisions that go into making a film. The emphasis, for once, is less on the director than on his collaborators, those responsible for casting, camerawork, lighting, script and sound. This week's programme on Romeo + Juliet also looks at adaptation, using Shakespeare's words as the dialogue for a thoroughly modern film, which transfers the opening scene of the play from a square in Verona to a petrol station in Miami. The close analysis of how that scene was made will be of interest to students of English as well as media and film studies.

The English Programme: Film Focus Channel 4 May 8 and 15, 11.30-11.55am

best of the rest

A new series of Reputations begins with Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut; later portraits include Liberace, Joe Louis, Anthony Eden and Janis Joplin. With the help of her sinister, obsessive coach, Renald Knysh, Olga Korbut pioneered a more acrobatic (and more dangerous) style of gymnastics which changed the nature of the sport. Her career illustrates the sacrifices that have to be made to achieve success at this level and also gives an insight into the political use of sport in the Cold War era.

Reputations BBC2 Tuesdays, from May 16 9-9.50pm

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